Friday, November 4, 2016

Meaningful Work as a Mother

A few months ago, a new acquaintance asked me one evening, "did you work today?"

Now, it was an innocent question. But I'm sure I visibly bristled because the fact of the matter is that Noah was in the throes of the "twos," was newly potty training, our house was under construction, and I was emotionally and physically exhausted. But did I clock in or get paid or answer to anyone besides a toddler? No. So I said, "no, I mostly just work on the weekend," and left it at that.

Yet... I felt immediately defensive because I knew I worked that day, and I knew it was work that a lot of women would love to do, but can't for a plethora of reasons. I also knew it was the least appealing work in the world to other women; and to yet others, it didn't qualify as "work" at all.

So when the speakers at our women's conference breakout session last month defined work as "any purposeful activity involving mental, emotional, and/or physical energy, compensated or not," my heart cried YES.

What I got from the discussion was really refreshing, too: What is your calling? Anything the Father calls you to do! This means it doesn't have to look the same for all of us.

I often attempt to define who I am through what I do, and often when I put my "stuff" out there, I'm trying to get feedback about who I am. I want to know that I'm seen, and that what I do matters. Maybe it doesn't sound so bad, but at its core, that behavior means my work is my identity. And when I make my work, any work, my identity, I make sacrifices to protect it. Then I'm devastated when others don't validate it because it means they don't validate me. It's enough to make anyone defensive. This is probably where I spent the first 18 months of my job as a mom: piling on the disclaimers and feeling like I needed to pre-emptively defend myself for my choice to stay home Monday through Friday and work one shift a week on nights or weekends.

Here's the deal: before you're a mom, you're generally convinced that motherhood is either the best or worst thing that will ever happen to you. When it does happen to you, younger or older, planned or not, biological or adoptive, it's going to rock your world. From there, the path of motherhood diverges in as many different directions as there are mothers.

Unless you stay at home with a child for 40 hours a week, you can't understand the unique loneliness that can come with it.

Unless you are a mom and a full-time employee and/or full-time student all at the same time, you can't understand the mass chaos that comes with the dual roles and responsibilities and childcare.

Unless you're a single parent, or a solo parent with a spouse who travels often or works long hours, you can't understand the weight that carries.

So why do we assign value and judgement to someone else's life and roles? Why can't we let them do what they're called to do, and do what works for us without shame?  Instead of assigning value to whose life is "harder" or whose role is "more important," we need to remember that we are all living in the reality that life doesn't quite turn out exactly how we expect it to. Why can't we unite under the umbrella of the fact that it's all so very much harder than we thought it would be?

The awesome thing is, we can. We CAN work out of blessing, and not for it. Genesis 1:27-28 tell us God made us in his image to be creators, relational, and rulers. It goes on to tell us that he blesses us and THEN gives us a job to do: to be fruitful and multiply. As women, this line has caused a lot of grief because our fruitfulness is often expressed in physical childbearing. The good new is, fruitfulness is NOT limited to that, because we are creative beings, not just "creators" in the very strict sense of the word.

When sin and death entered the world, our own work got painful in every way. But this means we don't have to find the "perfect job" or "ideal situation." Because we live in a fallen world, we can expect to be regularly frustrated in our work, even when we're right where we should be!

This was so validating for me to hear. So needed. If I'm not striving for perfection, I can find peace where I'm at. Loving my work (even in the midst of the difficulty) is to image the Father. I can value people over accomplishments, titles, incomes, or traditional roles. When looking at my unique struggles, I can ask, how does this mundane thing image the Father and lead me to Him? I can ask other moms the same question, even though their mundane thing may be so totally different from mine.

All of us could stand to ask ourselves, "Do I really believe God cares about my daily work, whatever that may be?" Acts 17:28 says that in God we live, and move, and have our being. This means that he isn't just directing our lives, but that he's actively involved in us, transforming us in the midst of our daily challenges. He's using us to get work done, but he's also using work to get US done!

There are so many tensions as a result of choices and circumstances in our lives. Can we link arms and be united in Christ? Can we find peace where we are and not assume that everyone is out to judge us?

What if, when we saw someone drowning, we reached out a hand and said, "you're not alone?"

What if, when you're in over your head, you could see that hand, not as a holier-than-thou gesture, but as an offer of friendship and goodwill?

What if, when we are drowning, we said, "it's so hard," and reached out for help instead of running ourselves into the ground in the name of pride?

If I'm believing God, what does that change about who I am and what I do? Instead of more time or more money or more sleep or more discipline or more childcare, what I need is more kindness, more patience, more Jesus.

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